The title of MLB's new International Talent Committee sounds global in scope, but there's no doubt of the central role the Dominican Republic will play in the committee's upcoming discussions about a possible international draft. It was appropriate, then, that MLB Player's Association executive director Michael Weiner spoke to the press in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo yesterday, just hours after introducing the committee stateside. Weiner and other MLBPA representatives outlined a number of goals focusing on protecting and helping Dominicans and other Latino players, but they face a growing rumble of criticism about the committee's makeup and its perceived plans for Latin America.
"We're analyzing things to see what is the best solution," Weiner said, as reported in Spanish* by Dionisio Soldevila at the Dominican daily Hoy (link in Spanish). "If it was up to the owners, they'd do it right now. The players are open to that same discussion."
This statement in particular led some in the Dominican press to label the draft "practically a done deal," though some MLB executives sound less categorical than Weiner. "Some teams are for it, while other teams are not," Padres senior vice president Omar Minaya told Andy Martino at the New York Daily News. "For a draft to go into effect, a lot of things would have to be in place." Minaya isn't on the committee, but his Mets successor Sandy Alderson is, and Martino had this to say about the Mets GM:
"People involved with the committee describe Alderson as not quite as avid a proponent of the international draft as he once was. Although he is said to remain open-minded about the issue, Alderson is not expected to play the role of fiery advocate for the league's pro-draft position."
Along with Weiner and Alderson, the committee includes MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred, MLBPA director of player relations Tony Clark, MLB senior advisor Rick Shapiro, Kim Ng from the Commissioner's Office, Rays GM Andrew Friedman, and Stan Javier, a Dominican-born former player who now works as a special assistant for the MLBPA. When the lineup was first announced on Wednesday, several writers in the Spanish-speaking press made note of the fact that Javier is the only Latino. Among the most critical was Arturo Marcano, an ESPN Deportes contributor and co-author with David Fidler of a number of articles and a book that take issue with MLB's history of managing Latino talent. In a column yesterday on ESPN Deportes (link in Spanish), Marcano called it "absurd" not to include more international representation on the committee, writing:
"There is just one Latino in the committee, in spite of the clear fact that the principal objective is to study a market that is largely centered in Latin America. I find it hard to believe that the only available Latino prepared to take part in this committee was Stanley Javier." Marcano pointed to the the objectives the committee laid out in a recent press release, noting that most deal specifically with issues related to the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Mexico. But there's also the simple matter of language, he wrote:
"The only way that the members of the committee can properly analyze many of these issues, including the legal aspects and socioeconomic realities of countries like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, is to have a full mastery of what has happened up to now, and to speak Spanish, since many of the affected and interested parties don't speak English. Unless Google Translate is an honorary member of the committee."
As if in response to such concerns, two Dominican players, Miguel Batista and Jose Veras, accompanied Weiner, Clark, and Javier at the event in the Santo Domingo. Batista told Soldevila, "The players are trying to protect the interests of all these young men. There are many things we're trying to achieve to help latino muchachos, including better educational programs, not rejecting 18-year-old Dominicans like happens now, and that they have more opportunities."
An additional concern for the committee is that, as Minaya concisely put it, "countries do not want to be Puerto Rico." The island was absorbed into the American/Canadian draft in 1990 and has produced declining numbers of players ever since, which Weiner addressed at the press conference, saying, "With the draft in Puerto Rico, some precautions weren't taken, and for that reason the number of signings decreased dramatically. Now, with this committee, we're going to watch so that the flow of players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and other countries doesn't decrease."
Once the committee starts meeting in January, Puerto Rico will finally begin to be more than just a cautionary tale. One of the group's objectives is to discuss whether the nation should be absorbed into an international draft, or stay on equal footing with the US and Canada.
* In lieu of a transcript or video of the press conference, which the MLBPA informed MLB Trade Rumors it does not have, Michael Weiner's quotes here are re-translations of quotes that were translated from English into Spanish by the Dominican press. Thus, they may differ in minor ways from the original English. The quotes will be changed here as appropriate should such a transcript become available.